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A Meal with… The Chef of Longevity

We have living here in Phuket a veritable guru of longevity, someone who can tell us a lot about how to live a long and healthy life. Alessandro Frau is the owner and Executive Chef of the fabulous Acqua restaurant overlooking Kalim Bay.

By Baz Daniel

Sunday 25 April 2021, 01:00PM

Acqua is one of the most award-winning restaurants in Thailand, including the Michelin Plate from The Michelin Guide Thailand, The Thailand Tatler Best Upcountry Restaurant in Thailand, and The Wine Spectator’s only Two Glasses Best Award of Excellence from 2017 until the present.

Alessandro himself is also the winner of Thailand’s coveted Iron Chef Award, not to mention a sack-full of other top culinary gongs, but not content with that, he also hails from the fabled Mediterranean island of Sardinia, which contains one of the world’s ‘Blue Zones’, where the inhabitants live on average to a much older age than the rest of us, while also tending to stay healthier, hardier and happier as they ascended the towering peaks of age. How they achieve this enviable feat has, not surprisingly, been the focus of a massive amount of research and analysis in recent times.

If we can learn the secrets of the Blue Zone dwellers such as the Sardinians, goes the narrative, maybe then we can all attain the enviable goal of becoming healthy and happy Centenarians, many of whom, so local folklore has it, eventually die peacefully in their sleep, often after making love it seems!

Having witnessed my own creaking anatomy, manufactured in the English Midlands in 1949, turn 72, I decided a trip to Acqua for a chat with Alessandro was becoming a pressing necessity, so one recent Sunday evening I drove the empty roads to the lovely quietude of Kalim Bay for a chat and asked Alessandro to prepare for us some classic Sardinian cuisine.

In all fairness, the research on the ‘Blue Zone’ inhabitants’ ability to achieve the miracle of healthy and happy ageing shows there’s a lot more to it than merely eating the right fodder. The commonalities between the lifestyles and behaviours of residents of Sardinia and other zones of extended longevity such as Okinawa in Japan, Nicoya in Costa Rica and Icaria in Greece, also play a significant part in their propensity to out-live the rest of us.

Abundant movement and walking (often to group meals, churches and other social gatherings), sunshine and clean fresh air, spending time outdoors, plant-based diets with limited calorific intake, occupational passion and purpose, tending not to retire, lack of stress and smoking, extended social groups and families, some form of spiritual belief… all these fine human characteristics correlate with less diseases of ageing such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, obesity and depression and therefore with good health and longevity.

I’ve known Alessandro for many years and meeting him again at Acqua I was immediately struck by how he exemplifies many of the characteristics of healthy living. He works passionately with his great team designing and then running his restaurants (he is currently opening a new one in Bangkok), yet he still finds time to work out several times every week. He’s sociable and friendly, yet extremely knowledgeable and passionate about his chosen career and is well known as a guru and teacher in both the culinary arts and the design and conceptualisation of restaurants. 

I attempted the classic Italian greeting of ‘Cent’Anni’ ‒ literally ‘May you love to be 100’ ‒ as Alessandro and I sat down within the clean, futuristic décor of Acqua. I started by asking Alessandro how we can keep our calorific intake in check when dining in such a tempting citadel of fine dining as Acqua.

QSI International School Phuket

“The key is to eat limited amounts of the finest produce and ingredients, prepared to perfection. It’s all about quality not quantity! We offer a wide range of creations focused on a very healthy selection of ingredients, both local and international, as certain places are best for their specialties and seasons. For example, Sicilian red prawns, Puglian burrata cheese, Sardinian sea urchins, the best French oysters and American lobster, and the best seafood that the Andaman has to offer.

Fresh from attaining his diploma in tourism management in Italy, Alessandro’s culinary journey and training encompassed many stellar locations from his Sardinian home, to the famed Grosvenor House Hotel in London, then on to Mexico, Sweden, Finland and Paris before arriving in Phuket in 2004.

By the tender age of 28, Alessandro was appointed Executive Chef at the Sheraton Grande Laguna Phuket, overseeing the running of 12 outlets and 130 Chefs for the next four years. He says, “This was a wonderful learning experience, but I missed the passionate creativity of being a hands-on chef in my own kitchen, so decided to create my own restaurant using my experience from around the world to create my vision of the perfect culinary experience. And so, Acqua was born.”

Like many others, I feel the passion and creativity in the very air and essence of Acqua whenever I have the pleasure of dining there and it was no surprise that Alessandro’s huge, state-of-the-art kitchen was, this Sunday evening, thronged with eager young trainees learning at the elbow of the master.

I asked Alessandro about the seminal influence which his Sardinian roots play in his culinary philosophy. “My vision for Acqua was always based on authentic influences derived from the tradition and culture of Italy and Sardinia, which I continue to refine using the latest cooking techniques and ingredients, presented in an artistic, modern manner. Sardinia has a deep influence on everything we do, from superb seafood specialties, to home-made cheeses and salami, to using many specific, genuine ingredients which can still be found in the small, artisanal producers in Sardinia.”

Obviously, in writing about the health and ageing benefits of Sardinian cuisine, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about the benefits of drinking a certain red, grape-based, beverage renowned for its health-boosting antioxidant properties.

“Ah, the greatest anti-ageing secret of all,” said Alessandro with a smile as he poured me a glass. “In particular you must try our local Cannonau di Sardinia beverage, made from Grenache grapes, which grow especially thick-skinned on the island. Cannonau has the highest levels of polyphenols of any wine… antioxidants which are linked to heart health and protection from cardiovascular disease. It’s also rich in anthocyanins, naturally-occurring compounds responsible for the red/purple colour of red grapes, with antioxidant effects as well. This doesn’t mean you have to go overboard on Cannonau though, as the locals drink an average of just two glasses a day.”

As I departed from my evening at Acqua with Phuket’s world-famous Chef of Longevity, I most certainly felt at least 10 years younger. Whether this was the result of the great food, the terrific company, or the Cannonau beverage, it’s difficult to say, but if you want to achieve the same anti-ageing effect, I urge you to get over to Acqua at your first opportunity and find out for yourself.

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